Prior to the Raptors taking on the Indiana Pacers, Dwane Casey told the media the team was focusing on one game at a time, while also trying to make a playoff push.
“There’s a lot of basketball left,” he said. “A lot of things can happen, good or bad.”
In Friday night’s match up against the Pacers, a lot of things did indeed happen. Most of the good things were done by the Pacers and the bad…well, one look at the 93-81 score and you can fill in the rest of that sentence.
Acknowledging before the game that the match up would be one where his team would need to come out with their “hard hats” on, Indiana proved to be too much of a test for the reeling Raptors.
“We couldn’t score and we couldn’t get stops,” DeMar DeRozan said. “That’s all on us.”
Coming into the game looking to snap a two-game slide thanks to losses against the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week, the Raptors struggled mightily from the jump. Against Indiana, a team that holds its opponents to just 41 per cent shooting, Toronto made only three of the 17 shots they attempted in the opening quarter. Despite shooting 18 perc ent in the frame — yes, it looked as bad as it sounds — Indiana led by just four at the end of one.
As the game went on, though, Indiana found their groove offensively and allowed their defence to dictate the pace of the game. Toronto never led outside of a five-point advantage in the first quarter, while the Pacers stretched their advantage to 19 early in the fourth.
“You are talking about one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Casey said after the game. “That is playoff basketball. We have to be able to execute against that type of basketball and that type of physicality. Everything has to be with force.”
The Raptors finished the game shooting 40 per cent from the floor. They had just 12 assists on their 29 made field goals. Rudy Gay led the team in scoring with 21 points, but he was hampered by back spasms for much of the game. DeRozan had a solid first half, attacking the rim and getting to the line on a night when he struggled from the floor, but couldn’t get it going after the break.
“Rudy had back spasms which frustrated him,” Casey said “They sent quick help to him. We have to do a better job of getting it to him and DeMar on the weak side.”
DeRozan also pointed to the lack of ball movement in the loss.
“We get stagnant and try to do a lot of one-on-one and the ball stops moving,” he said. “We only had 12 assists tonight and that’s not like us. We have to move the ball and attack from there.”
All-Star Paul George led the way for Indiana, scoring a game-high 22 points to go with 10 rebounds. David West added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Roy Hibbert scored 18 points.
The Raptors have a quick turnaround on Saturday, when they will face the Bucks in Milwaukee. After botching three straight games that were considered to be “winnable”, the match up against Milwaukee –currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference — becomes even more important.
Gay slowed by back spasms
While Rudy Gay finished the game with 21 points for the Raptors, he didn’t look like himself at certain points of Friday night’s game. After the game Dwane Casey explained that Gay’s frustration was a result of playing through back spasms.
Gay downplayed the injury to media in his post-game scrum. “It’s back spasms, that’s all it was,” he said. “I tried to play through it because it’s not the time to sit out.”
While he told the media that it shouldn’t affect him the next couple of games, he took his time getting up out of the chair in front of his locker and walked very gingerly into the back to get treatment.
Bargnani bounces back
While Dwane Casey has defended Andrea Bargnani in a strange season where he has been injured and then returned to boos from his hometown fans through his struggles, the Raptors’ head coach said on Friday morning that Bargnani is the only one who can make the decision to show up and be active when he hits the floor.
"That’s what everybody is looking for,” he said. “That old Andrea. Nobody can do that but him. We can talk about it, beat it up in the press, talk, I’m talked out. Every interview I’ve had has been about Andrea. It’s about the Toronto Raptors. To help the Toronto Raptors it’s up to Andrea to do what he does. Not anything more, not anything less. Each player, not only him, each player has got to bring what they do to the table.”
Bargnani either heard the message or simply enjoys playing against the Pacers. While his best game since returning from injury was the Raptors’ overtime victory against Indiana in February, his best performance since the boos started was Friday night. Playing 32 minutes off of the bench, Bargnani finished with eight points. He didn’t have any rebounds, but after going scoreless in three of his last four contests, it was a welcomed sight to see him taking and making shots.
After the game, Gay complimented his teammate. “They’ve got one of the best front courts in the league,” Gay said of the Pacers. “I think he [Bargnani] did a pretty good job at the defensive end. It’s not easy, obviously. They’re the number two team in the East so it hasn’t been easy for a lot of people. He fought with them, I commend him for that.”
Gay, DeRozan keep it real
While Rudy Gay came to the Raptors with hopes of guiding them to the post-season, DeMar DeRozan has been patient through the rebuilding process for the first three years of his NBA career. Now in his fourth year, and with a four-year extension signed, it’s becoming obvious that he isn’t okay with finishing his basketball season in April once again.
Attacking the basket as aggressively as he has all season, DeRozan has competed like a player with his eyes on the prize over the past few games. While he could not get things going against the Pacers, he was rewarded with another 10 free throw attempts in the loss. Normally an 84 per cent shooter from the line, DeRozan made just five of those attempts.
It was that kind of night.
Sitting in his locker after the cameras were gone, dressed in the sweat suit that he would fly to Milwaukee in, he was upset with himself. Upset with the missed free throws, frustrated with the lack of ball movement, pointing to those 12 team assists, and disappointed because he wanted so badly to collect three victories this week and inch closer to the post-season.
Gay gave credit to Indiana for being a great defensive team and chose to use the loss as another lesson for his young team.
“It’s not easy losing,” Gay said. “Especially right now. They have a great defensive team, but if we want to be one of the elite we have to be more disciplined and do what we do every day. For that, I think they deserved to beat us.”
DeRozan wanted to look toward Milwaukee and the next challenge that awaits the Raptors. On the same day that his coach said the team’s margin of error is ‘close to zero’, it was easy to see that the missed shots, free throws and opportunities were weighing on the fourth-year swingman.
Despite his frustrations, he was adamant that the team needed to respond against the Bucks regardless of the disappointment lingering after Friday’s loss.
“We got to,” he said. “We have no other choice but to come out and play our best basketball.”
Whatever the odds stacked against him, DeRozan is playing for a postseason and will be competing until the end.